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Delayed Breast Cancer Screenings Will Increase Cancer Deaths
By Nancy Kennedy

Women across the U.S. are not getting their routine screening mammograms for breast cancer in 2020 due to anxiety about contracting COVID19, and the consequences could be profound.

Healthcare professionals who specialize in cancer care are greatly concerned about the negative impact that the COVID 19 pandemic is having on vital cancer screenings, including mammograms. Fear of exposure to the virus in medical settings has led millions of American women to cancel or delay their routine annual screenings for breast cancer, and this is likely to result in delayed diagnoses and an eventual increase in breast cancer deaths. Early detection is the key to breast cancer survival, and the delayed detection that is a collateral consequence of COVID 19 will mean that breast cancers will not be diagnosed until they are in advanced stages, which translates to worse prognoses. Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women in the U.S., after skin cancer.

Tara L. Grahovac, MD, a board-certified breast surgeon at St. Clair Hospital, says that at this point, no one knows exactly what the full impact will be. “It’s a difficult thing to predict, but the National Cancer Institute does prediction modeling, and they estimate that there will be an excess of 10,000 deaths from breast and colorectal cancer over the next ten years, as a result of the COVID pandemic. Fewer cancers are being diagnosed, but the incidence of cancer has not decreased, according to the NCI report; in fact, these estimates may be conservative.

Dr. Grahovac says that breast cancer screenings, which includes mammograms, breast MRIs and breast ultrasounds, have plunged by nearly 50% in some parts of the country since the beginning of the pandemic; at St. Clair, it was closer to one-third between February and May/June. At first this was due to the restrictions that the CDC ordered hospitals to implement when the virus began to spread, and at that time this was the appropriate action. But when hospitals resumed operations, with strict, comprehensive safety precautions in place to protect patients from exposure, many women still opted to cancel their appointments or delay scheduling them.

At St. Clair Hospital, breast cancer screenings are available in a safe environment, with all necessary protections as recommended by the CDC and Pennsylvania Depart­ment of Health in place. St. Clair’s Breast Care Center has the most advanced diagnostic imaging technology and women can feel confident that they will receive care that is sensitive, personal and of the highest possible quality.

Cancer screenings are elective procedures, but they are also critically important to the early detection and treatment of cancer. The timing of diagnosis and the start of treatment greatly impact prognosis: the earlier the cancer is detected, the better the odds of survival.

“Screening mammograms save lives,” Dr. Grahovac states. “They reduce cancer mortality by one-third. A delay of even a few months can make a difference.”

Full imaging services are available at the Breast Care Center at St. Clair Hospital’s Outpatient Center in Bethel Park and Peters Township. To schedule your appointment, call (412) 942-8150.



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